Possible Disaster: Tungurahua Volcano Might Collapse

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Tungurahua comes from Quichua, tunguri meaning throat and rahua meaning fire. It is also known as “The Black Giant,” and, in local indigenous mythology, it is referred to as Mama Tungurahua. And scientists today fear Mama might collapse and create unprecedented chaos.

Throat of Fire is an active stratovolcano located in the Cordillera Oriental of Ecuador. It has an elevation of 5,023 meters. Tungurahua’s top is snow-covered and until 1999 had a small summit glacier. But on August 19, 1999, it resumed its volcanic activity, and the glacier melted. As a result, over 25,000 people in nearby areas were evacuated.

Today’s Tungurahua is the third volcanic edifice. It was constructed inside its predecessor’s caldera. Tungurahua collapsed for the second time about 3000 years ago. Tungurahua the First collapsed at the end of the Late Pleistocene.

The possible collapse on the Tungurahua Volcano

Mama Tungurahua poses a threat for a very long time; scientists agree. New data collected by satellites show concerning deformation in the west flank of the volcano.

The deformation seems to occur at high speed, and it threatens to make the volcano collapse for the third time. The scenario is suited for Hollywood movies, as Tungurahua’s eruptions are strombolian. They produce andesite and dacite. All historical eruptions originated from the summit crater have been accompanied by loud explosions, pyroclastic flows, and sometimes lava flows.

For Mama Tungurahua’s neighbors is a scenario coming from hell. Back on August 16, 2006, the eruption was accompanied by a 10 kilometers high ash plume that spread over an area of 740 by 180 kilometers depositing ash and tephra to the southwest of the volcano. Several pyroclastic flows were generated that killed at least five people and destroyed several hamlets and roads on the eastern and northwestern slopes of the volcano. And it was just an eruption.

What would the collapse mean?

The collapse of a volcano is an event with a way larger magnitude. Massive landslides are expected, with avalanches of rock traveling for up to tens of kilometers, ruining an area of tens square kilometers. Forced evacuation

” [The menace] is caused by imbalances between magma being supplied and magma being erupted,” says geophysical volcanologist James Hickey from the University of Exeter in the UK. “Magma supply is one of several factors that can cause or contribute to volcanic flank instability, so while there is a risk of possible flank collapse, the uncertainty of these natural systems also means it could remain stable,” Hickey also says.

That means nothing will happen. But what if it will? The uncertainty couldn’t be worse, and Mama Tungurahua feeds both possibilities, like the mother she is. She also teaches. There is nothing that can be done to avoid the collapse if it will actually occur. But further investigating the possibility can help scientists learn to anticipate the conditions that might trigger such a disaster.